New Times Los Angeles | Oct. 1, 1998
Although her politics may have seemed suspect for right-wing radio, management at KFI -- the undisputed raw meat leader of the genre in Los Angeles -- knew a pearl when they saw one.
One Angry Dyke
When KFI-talk show host Tammy Bruce went after Bill Cosby’s wife, the radio station dumped her. Now the out lesbian is going after KFI -- with some down and dirty charges about other on-air stars
By Ron Russell
The morning of July 8 began like any other for talk-show host Tammy Bruce. She sipped coffee and pored over a stack of newspapers at the Starbucks around the corner from her Westside condo, looking for a hot topic for her high-octane, late-night program on KFI radio. Leafing through USA Today, she spied an essay by Camille Cosby, wife of entertainment icon Bill Cosby, that made her bristle. "I believe America taught our son's killer to hate African-Americans," it began. The piece was a grieving mother's emotional and accusatory reflection on the murder of the couple's son, Ennis, and the conviction of his killer, a Ukrainian émigré turned L.A. gang member. As she read Camille's fiery denunciation of racism run amok in American society, the super-charged Bruce grew angrier by the minute.
On the air that night the confrontational former head of the National Organization for Women's L.A. chapter could barely contain herself. "I have two words for you this evening," she warned listeners. "Camille Cosby." The Tammy, as fans affectionately call her, then went ballistic. In two hours of fire and brimstone, she ripped apart the essay line by line, not only questioning Camille's sanity but wondering aloud about her super-rich and powerful husband's sexual mores, referring to him as a "philandering, impregnating friend of O.J. [Simpson]." While acknowledging that she had no proof, she suggested that the revered Cosby, a friend of Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran, may have secretly helped to fund the ex-football star's murder defense. But most of her ire was aimed at Camille's assertion that the 27-year-old Ennis had been shot to death while changing a tire late at night near a lonely stretch of Mulholland Drive because he was black. Bruce posited that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time -- while driving his mother's $130,000 Mercedes-Benz. She then implied that the parents themselves shared the blame. "I say to Mrs. Cosby first of all, if she's not in therapy she needs to get some immediately. And how dare she!" fumed The Tammy.
Call this 50,000-watt tongue-lashing of a mother grieving the loss of her only son insensitive, tasteless, even outrageous -- but it wasn't boring. In the context of right-wing talk radio (and what other kind is there on the commercial dial?) the broadcast had been a notch or two above the norm. At least Bruce had allowed callers who defended Camille Cosby to talk. Whatever else might be said about it, the show hadn't dropped below the standards usually associated with the loud-mouthed, Clinton-bashing, Rush Limbaugh-ized dreck that permeates the talk airwaves. In fact, when Bruce signed off at 3 a.m., there were high-fives all around in the studio. "Great show!" yelled a colleague, as the host gathered her things to head home. Bruce happily agreed.
There was little reason for anyone to suspect that within 24 hours KFI's management would toss her out on her ear.
Anyone who knows Bruce, 36, should have expected that she would either become a rip-roaring success or else be skinned alive in the ultra-conservative milieu of KFI. What else could one expect from a lesbian feminist forced to share the same water cooler with on-air homophobes and misogynists? That she would allow herself to be kicked around was never in the cards. Not Bruce, who, after embarking on a radio career, had been forced out of her NOW post as the price for speaking her mind. And those were her friends.
This is a woman for whom counter-protesting against anti-abortion groups early in the decade wasn't enough. Instead, she infiltrated them and gathered intelligence so that pro-choice troops could throw protective human barricades around clinics before the other side arrived. She once began an appearance on ABC's Nightline with a four-minute harangue against domestic violence that anchor Ted Koppel couldn't for the life of him turn off. Another time, she managed to skirt security inside the state Capitol and, before a phalanx of TV cameras, dress down Gov. Pete Wilson for not trying to block the parole of a 12-time sex offender. At the O.J. Simpson trial, the relentless Bruce burrowed into Judge Lance Ito's chambers, not once, but twice, complaining of the way he treated prosecutor Marcia Clark. After Simpson's acquittal, she turned self-styled vigilante, introducing "O.J. spottings" on her radio show and leading angry feminist bands to heckle him away from restaurants and golf courses.
Although her politics may have seemed suspect for right-wing radio, management at KFI -- the undisputed raw meat leader of the genre in Los Angeles -- knew a pearl when they saw one. Besides, Bruce wasn't easy to categorize. A lesbian, feminist, abortion-rights crusader, yes. But the slender, five-foot-six-inch Bruce, with her flashing auburn eyes and straight brown shoulder-length hair, was also a labor union-bashing gun owner. (Although, contrary to rumor, she insists she's never belonged to the National Rifle Assn.) She was quick to defend cops whenever the subject turned to police brutality and had a way of even seeming sympathetic to militia types while not extolling their cause. And better still, she would turn Clinton hater, becoming sufficiently incensed by the Monica Lewinsky revelations to change her voter registration from Democrat to Libertarian.
The bottom line was that she took to radio like a duck to water. Insiders credit the station's program director, David G. Hall, who took Bruce under his wing, with teaching her how to use the microphone. Observing early on that she sounded too tentative, he had her do her program standing -- even pacing back and forth -- to pump more vitality into her delivery. In critiques of her recorded broadcasts, Hall coached her on how to push the limits of controversy and, above all, keep listeners guessing about what she might say next. And it worked. The station groomed her for bigger things. Beginning as a weekend part-timer in 1993, she was promoted to command of the four-hour overnight shift on weeknights, attracting an ever larger audience of insomniacs numbering in the tens of thousands.
And then came The Tammy's mysterious denouement last summer.
At first glance, her abrupt disappearance from the radio -- without so much as an official word of explanation from the station -- appeared to illustrate what happens when a mere contract player entrusted with something as powerful as the public airwaves goes mano a mano against Hollywood royalty. In the aftermath of her banishment, especially considering its timing, it was widely assumed that Bruce had been let go because of the Cosby remarks. KFI certainly spun the story that way to the media. "You hire class clowns to be class clowns, and then you get upset when they act like class clowns," observed industry insider Tomm Looney, coming to Tammy's defense in a column for the online Radio Digest. But something about the Bruce affair didn't smell right. Radio personalities with strong ratings rarely get fired. And even as she was being shown the door, Bruce had just registered a fifth straight quarterly audience share increase, or up book, as measured by Arbitron. Sending her home with pay, station officials announced that they were conducting an "investigation" of the Cosby broadcast, being careful to avoid mentioning exactly why Bruce was no longer around. At the same time, KFI placed Bruce under a gag order, implicitly threatening that if she opened her mouth, she stood to forfeit thousands of dollars owed to her under a personal services contract.
Call this 50,000-watt tongue-lashing of a mother grieving the loss of her only son insensitive, tasteless, even outrageous -- but it wasn't boring.
Meanwhile, the Cosbys were complaining behind the scenes that they had been defamed, leading to a highly-unusual on-air retraction by KFI on August 20, nearly seven weeks after the offending broadcast. In a groveling, pre-recorded apology that lasted nearly five minutes (an eternity in radio) -- and, amazingly, was rebroadcast eight times -- program director Hall essentially made his employee, Bruce, out to be a liar. "She made various comments about Mrs. Cosby and her husband, Bill Cosby, that were unfounded, mean-spirited, or simply inappropriate," said Hall in the audio apology. He noted that "specifically, Mrs. Cosby was characterized as 'unstable,' 'crazy,' 'paranoid,' 'delusional,' 'just nuts,' and the like....We had no information about Mrs. Cosby's mental health; these characterizations were merely intended to reflect Tammy's vigorous disagreement with the views expressed [in the USA Today essay]....While it was entirely appropriate to voice disagreement with Mrs. Cosby's views, these statements were excessive." Hall then proceeded to describe other statements by Bruce as cruel, extreme, and insensitive. "While [Bruce] is entitled to her opinion," he said, "she went too far."
Leaving aside that opinion and hyperbole are constitutionally protected forms of speech, this sudden outburst of probity seemed almost laughable coming from a station that routinely ridicules women, minorities, and gays, advances loony conspiracy theories, and unleashes the ravings of Rush Limbaugh on a daily basis. Even more curious, the apology sheared off the nuances of what Bruce had actually said on the show.For example, Bruce had remarked: "Now let me just...if you didn't know who you were dealing with, you would say she [Camille] was incredibly unstable." And: "If she is taking this stand, is this what others must be thinking, or is she just nuts?" And: "If this is what she really thinks, they're [Bill and Camille] either extraordinary hypocrites, or she's extraordinarily unstable, and I don't think she's unstable.
"But if KFI's apology sounded as if it had been scripted by the Cosbys or their lawyers, that's because largely it was. The station had taken a lengthy apology drafted by Cosby attorney John H. Lavely Jr., which the couple wanted Bruce to read. It began with, "On my radio show...," and essentially replaced the personal pronoun "I" with the institutional "We." Bruce, who earlier insisted she had done nothing wrong and offered to read a mild apology of her own (the station rejected it), took one look at the Lavely script and pronounced it "erroneous and outrageously destructive" of her career. The silenced Bruce told her KFI bosses that if they broadcast it, they could expect her to sue them for defamation.
One reason management may have seemed eager to sell Bruce down the river was because of its protracted negotiations with the Cosbys over how to respond to the broadcast, even though, according to a well-placed source, the station's own attorneys saw no lingering libel problems that a simple retraction wouldn't cure. Lawyers for Bruce insisted that what the Cosbys wanted was massive overkill. Sources say the Cosbys originally had asked KFI to publish the apology in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. (How that would have done anything but greatly amplify the purported harm is difficult to imagine.) The demand was soon dropped, sources say, but the Cosbys still insisted that KFI, or its parent, Cox Broadcasting, donate up to $500,000 to the nonprofit Ennis Cosby Foundation as part of any settlement. It is not known how much, if any, money the station forked over. Cosby publicist David Brokaw brushed aside questions about the settlement but said the Cosbys had "absolutely not" encouraged KFI to get rid of Bruce. As far as the Cosbys are concerned, he says, "the station's apology speaks for itself and provides closure to a regrettable situation."
Maybe, but for all the noise to the contrary, the episode hardly seems the reason for Bruce's being dumped.
In a September 1 e-mail to an Orange County listener who had written to complain about the talk-show host's removal, program director Hall stated, "Tammy was not punished for giving opinions on a famous person, or for refuting Mrs. Cosby's essay in USA Today." The e-mail's recipient, Michelle Stech, a 40-year-old software company manager, says she doesn't know Bruce and has never met her. In the document, a copy of which was obtained by New Times, Hall said: "We apologized for mean-spirited statements of personal attack and for statements broadcast that are false. One of those things is against the law and the other is against station policy." Yet, astoundingly, given Hall's on-air denunciation of Bruce just 10 days earlier, he added: "I believe her comments on the essay were well researched, well founded, and exquisitely executed."
Arriving at the station on the day of the fateful broadcast, Bruce was upset about more than Camille Cosby's newspaper op-ed piece.
Radio mock-jock Phil Hendrie, whose popular nighttime program aired immediately before hers and whose gender-related insults of Bruce she had often complained of -- both on- and off-air -- was at it again. He had revived a feature called "Who Sucks on KFI?" in which callers (after going through a screener who is aware of what they intend to say) slam their most un-favorite personality at the station. Bruce kept being chosen. According to Bruce, Hendrie referred to her on-air as a "butch lesbian," when a young woman called Hendrie's show to say that she liked Bruce and asked why he seemed so bent on attacking her. He then added, she says, that while her PR picture might be nice, she must "wash up good" because she didn't look as swell in the flesh.
For Bruce, that was enough.
Shortly after going to work at KFI, Bruce says morning host Bill Handel joked on the air, "I'd love to see her finger in a dyke."
It was by no means the most outrageous episode involving Hendrie that Bruce had complained about. She says she had gone to Hall many times to complain about homophobic comments by various members of her mostly white, male on-air colleagues, but to no avail. The way she figured it, it was one thing for the station's talk jocks to crack on-air jokes referring to women as "bitches," gay men as "faggots," and lesbians as "dykes," but, after all, she was supposed to be a member of the family. But in a July 8 meeting with Hall, not long before she went on the air, Bruce says she finally uttered the word lawsuit. "I told him I was sick and tired of not being able to listen to the station because of the insults flying at me," says Bruce, in her first interview since her contract with KFI expired November 7. "I can be as thick-skinned as the next person, but the situation there had gotten completely out of hand. It wasn't only a hostile work environment, but it was detrimental to how listeners related to me. My own employer was allowing fellow employees to destroy me professionally. And to make it worse, they let it continue after they took me off the air, when I couldn't defend myself."
Claiming a pattern of sexual harassment for nearly five years at the station, Bruce says she tried "for too long" to be a good soldier and convey her complaints privately. During the July 8 meeting with Hall, she says, she let it be known she would no longer play the game. "The Cosby brouhaha was merely a pretext," says Patricia Bellasalma, a lawyer for Bruce. "In my view, there's no doubt that management decided, based on Tammy's pushing the issue, that they would simply get rid of her." As New Times went to press, Bruce's lawyers were preparing to file a civil lawsuit against KFI contending that the ex-host was harassed and treated differently based on gender and sexual orientation, and that KFI management knowingly defamed her by the manner in which it handled the Cosby retraction. "They didn't simply do an apology," Bellasalma asserts. "They set out to destroy Tammy Bruce's credibility, which in issues-oriented talk radio, is all one has." Ironically, should defamation become an issue in court, the Cosbys could end up as spectators to a very public squabble over the veracity of some of Bruce's statements about them, a prospect that perhaps neither they nor KFI anticipated.
It's probably safe to assume that KFI officials take serious exception to Bruce's allegations. But management spurned a dozen interview requests from New Times over a period of several weeks. "I could say plenty," says Hall, "but I won't in fairness to Tammy and in fairness to the station." KFI's manager, Howard Neal, initially agreed to an interview, but apparently changed his mind. Neal also offered to arrange interviews with Hall and Hendrie, but did not follow through.
In a formal complaint filed with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Bruce portrays KFI as a kind of Animal House, in which management was unable, or unwilling, to control her tormenters. She says pictures of nude or semi-nude women were common in work areas at the station. She describes taking down drawings with slogans such as "We don't want no bitches," as well as depictions of gays engaged in sex acts, overlaid with a red circle with a slash through the center. She claims male colleagues often made rude and offensive remarks related to her lesbianism behind her back, and hazed female interns and others assigned to work with her about whether they were homosexual. She relates how listeners reported remarks made about her by fellow hosts on the air, as well as derogatory comments by KFI staffers at events away from the station.
Some of her colleagues seemed incapable of resisting comments about her despite repeated admonishment from Hall that they do so, she says. For example, shortly after going to work there, she says morning host Bill Handel joked on the air, "I'd love to see her finger in a dyke." At a 1996 staff meeting, she recalls sitting across from Hendrie, who had just started at the station, and reaching to shake his hand when Handel piped up, "Don't touch her, you'll turn gay." At that point, she says, "I turned to him and said, 'Your comments are unwelcome, I don't like them, and I want you to stop.' And to his credit, he pretty much laid off after that."
Others didn't, she contends. After disclosing to her radio audience that her first partner had committed suicide (a subject Bruce even now resists discussing) hosts Scott Hasick and Casey Bartholomew (a.k.a. "Scott and Casey") joked on their show that Bruce must have a few dead girlfriends under her bed. The duo left KFI in 1997 to work briefly at a Cox-owned station in Florida. Upon returning to KFI this year to work weekends, they were told by Hall, at Bruce's request, that on-air potshots at her were no longer acceptable, she says. For a while Casey did traffic reports during Bruce's show, and, she says, "things with them appeared to have settled down." But assigned to fill in for Bruce after her abrupt dismissal, she says, his insults quickly resumed. "Hi, I'm Tammy Bruce. Send me a manly woman!" cracked Casey at the start of what was, technically, still her show on July 15.
But according to her complaint to the state fair employment department, her troubles with Hendrie were the most pronounced, and even bizarre.
She describes him as "incredibly supportive" of her when he first started at the station, even though she noticed that during on-air cross promotions about 10 minutes before her show, he often referred to her in some way as a lesbian. She says she thought it would pass and let it go.
But Hendrie, she says, didn't let up. In fact, says Bruce, his insults "got to be so consistent and so annoying" that after she confronted him at the station one night, "he became belligerent to the point where it was like an attack." According to Bruce, there was also a matter involving Hendrie's then fiancée -- and now wife -- Maria Sanchez, a talk-show host who used to co-host a KFI weekend show. Bruce says that not long before the couple were married in July 1997, Sanchez asked her to dinner and confided that she considered herself bisexual and that she was attracted to Bruce. "I suggested that if she was still having feelings for women, she may not want to get married so fast," Bruce says. She and Sanchez had a friendly dinner, she says, and she thought little more about the evening.
But not long afterward, she says, Sanchez came to the studio with a couple of friends to get Hendrie, who was about to go off the air. As the theme music cranked up to introduce Bruce's show, she says, Sanchez entered the studio where Bruce was about to begin her opening monologue and began removing her blouse while saying something about her breasts. "Her two friends entered the studio, then Phil came in to get her out," says Bruce. "Everyone was shocked."
She says she then reported to Hall that Sanchez was "coming on" to her and that Hendrie seemed to be involved in some way. "He [Hall] asked me if I wanted him to do anything, and I said no because I felt, frankly, that Phil was dangerous in a malicious kind of way and that my strategy was to just ignore them, not return [Sanchez's] phone calls, and just stay away from Phil. I felt that if they were confronted directly, Phil would retaliate.
"Following Hendrie's and Sanchez's wedding, held aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach and heavily promoted by the station, Bruce says that when Hendrie moved to kiss her and she offered her cheek, "He grabbed my face, planted his mouth on mine, and made a serious attempt to put his tongue in my mouth. I pulled away and then he told me Maria was looking for me and wanted a kiss, too. He said this emphatically and repeatedly." At that point, Bruce says, she left and decided it best to avoid both of them.
Both Hendrie and Sanchez, now a talk host for a Sacramento radio station, declined to be interviewed and referred questions to their attorney. But later acknowledging New Times' requests on his Website, Hendrie posted the following statement:
"I have never been alone in a room with Tammy Bruce. I have never had a conversation with Tammy Bruce that wasn't witnessed by at least three other people. Any conversation I had with her had to do with radio or the station. I have never touched Tammy Bruce, save for the time she walked up to me at my wedding and kissed me on the mouth in full view of 600 people.
"Hendrie's lawyer, Norm Kent of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, dismissed Bruce's account of the wedding as "slanderous" and accused her of lying about Sanchez. "Maria Sanchez is a devoted mother and absolutely and irrevocably denies Tammy Bruce's attempt to scandalize her," Kent says.
Anyone who knows Tammy Bruce should have expected that she would either become a rip-roaring success or else be skinned alive in the
ultra-conservative milieu of KFI.
Bruce claims that Hendrie stepped up his on-air attacks after the wedding incident and that she complained to Hall that Hendrie began to intimidate her by mumbling epithets such as "bitch" and "lesbian" when passing her at the station. She says Hall told her, "Well, at least we can stop it on the air, but you may still have to deal with him in the hallway." For the 46-year-old Hendrie, a talented improvisationist who draws from a menagerie of phony guests -- all of whom are Hendrie interviewing himself and interacting outrageously with unwary callers -- this isn't the first time he's become enmeshed in work-place controversy.
Former Miami Dolphins football player Bryan Cox (now with the Jets) is suing him for broadcasts at WIOD radio in Florida, claiming Hendrie defamed him in 1995 by portraying him as a homosexual. Hendrie had been impersonating Cox on the air, fooling listeners -- and even some Dolphin players -- into believing that Cox was bad-mouthing his teammates. Several players confronted Cox in the locker room for remarks they thought the star middle-linebacker had made (that quarterback Dan Marino was washed up, and coach Don Shula was over the hill). Players' wives even complained to Cox's wife.
Despite the player's complaints, Hendrie continued to impersonate him throughout the 1995 season. But things came to a boil in the Dolphins' locker room after a Sunday night game at San Diego in November, when a sports reporter from Hendrie's station stuck a microphone in Cox's face. Unaware that his remarks were being broadcast live, Cox blurted: "I hate WIOD, again. It can suck my dick." The next morning, Hendrie's station aired a promotional spot in which Hendrie -- again impersonating Cox -- faked a press conference at which the player declared he was gay. Hendrie then began his afternoon show that day with a discussion of homosexuals in pro sports. After alluding to Cox's "press conference" several times, Hendrie told his listeners: "But rarely do you have the kind of courageous statement in full view of the world and the press that Bryan Cox made this morning in that press conference announcing that he is a homosexual." A few minutes later, Hendrie added: "So if you missed it, Bryan Cox was on the air today saying he is, in fact, a...homosexual. Came out of the closet." The "announcement" scandalized gullible listeners, and sent Cox's teenage daughter home from school in tears.
When Atlanta-based Cox Broadcasting sold the Florida station to Clear Channel Communications, part of the deal, sources say, was that the new owners would not assume liability for the pending lawsuit -- which a judge has ruled may go to trial. The new owners also evidently thought it best to disassociate the station from Hendrie. So the Cox chain brought him to L.A., where, ironically, he ended up working beside the only avowed feminist, lesbian talk host in commercial radio.
Bruce is an unlikely radio figure. A self-confessed loner who worked to overcome painful shyness, she's more comfortable curled up with a book than being out with the crowd. The shyness may be a trait inherited from her father, but there's no way to tell. She never met him and isn't sure if he even knows she exists. Her mother, a retired Simi Valley sales clerk who gave birth to Tammy at age 40, was married twice, but never to Tammy's dad.
Born in Northridge and raised mostly in Simi Valley, Bruce had an unconventional childhood. A nerd in school ("I had everything but a pocket protector," she says), her interests lay in matters beyond her years. From the time she was in grammar school, her Uncle Ed, her mother's brother, entrusted her to pick winning thoroughbreds at Santa Anita. While her school chums were still playing hopscotch, Tammy was dispensing political advice. She recalls urging her mother to vote for Tom Bradley after seeing then-L.A. Mayor Sam Yorty on TV and concluding that "something -- I knew not what -- was wrong with that man."
Her formal education essentially ended at 12 when she dropped out of school and, after lying about her age, landed a job at an Oxnard car wash. "I loved learning, and from as early as I can remember, I had dreamed of going to college. But school became boring; it didn't seem challenging," she says. She obtained her California high-school equivalency when she was 15, then headed off to Chicago to live with relatives.
She returned to L.A. in her late teens and went to work as a personal assistant for actress Brenda Benet, who was featured on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. After Benet committed suicide, Bruce took a similar job with actress Gloria Loring and her then-husband, actor Alan Thicke. By her early twenties, she had landed a job with an electronic publishing company, creating video news releases to distribute to news organizations. That led to a stint in the L.A. bureau of an Australian television network, which put her in charge of booking talent for satellite interviews.
Her headlong leap into feminist activism came about almost by accident. At home watching CNN coverage of an anti-abortion rally outside a New York clinic in 1987, she grew incensed to see that the protesters were mostly white males. It motivated her to counter-demonstrate at an Operation Rescue rally outside a Pico Boulevard abortion clinic soon thereafter. Upon arriving, she was appalled by the timidity of the abortion rights picketers, mostly women from NOW and Planned Parenthood who seemed content to keep their distance. "Even the clinic director was so intimidated, he allowed Operation Rescue people inside to prove that no abortions were [then] taking place," she recalls. She hooked up with about a dozen fellow militants who called themselves Fired Up, and soon acquired a reputation in abortion-rights circles as a go-getter. The group's aggressive tactics included secretly infiltrating anti-abortion forces in order to learn which clinic they planned to hit next, then their own people would arrive at that clinic first to help keep the doors open.
After joining NOW in 1988, that same zeal helped propel Bruce, then 25, into the job of president of the L.A. chapter just two years later, making her the youngest chief in the local group's history. During her nearly six-year tenure, the chapter became the nation's largest, more than doubling membership from 1,800 to 4,000. Under her watch, it aggressively supported Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court confirmation hearings, championed Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer in their rise to the U.S. Senate, and on the abortion front, stepped up clinic defenses. "In contrast to her public persona, behind the scenes Tammy was really a quiet, forceful leader," says Judith Meuli, a friend and the chapter's current vice president.
The Simpson case verdict and her angry denunciations of O.J. as a violent wife-abuser gave Bruce a bully media pulpit but also brought her into conflict with NOW's national hierarchy, which began to resent her as a self-aggrandizing loose cannon. From the end of the trial in October 1995, the opinionated, telegenically angry Bruce was a media constant -- far beyond her talk fest on KFI. She led a 1,500-person vigil on the evening after the verdict. Three days later, she mobilized 5,000 for a candlelight memorial march in Brentwood. And when NBC announced a planned Simpson interview with Bryant Gumbel two days later, she rounded up 500 protesters (and dozens of TV cameras), even after the interview was called off. At the small Beverly Hills offices of NOW, where she was the only paid staff member, she was besieged by media requests.
She boldly and arrogantly told journalists that she had a message for Simpson: "You are not welcome here, you are not welcome in this country, you are not welcome on our airwaves, you are not welcome in our culture." Later, she was quoted in a wire service report as saying that she didn't want to discuss the Simpson case on a TV program because she didn't want "to argue with a bunch of black women." The remark was the beginning of her undoing. In May 1996, amid accusations of racial insensitivity that resulted in NOW's national leaders demanding her resignation, she called it quits. Stepping down as L.A. chapter president, she joined forces with Denise Brown, sister of the slain Nicole Brown Simpson, to form the Women's Progress Alliance, with the self-described mission of furthering the cause of women and children.
It was her anti-Simpson notoriety that made Bruce a more saleable commodity at KFI. Thanks to the rise in popularity of the bombastic, Clinton-trashing Limbaugh -- whose syndicated show the station carries -- as well as that of pseudo-psychiatric, "family values" icon Dr. Laura Schlessinger, KFI's fortunes were transformed. From the back of the pack, it rose to become the most listened to talk station in L.A., targeting a niche audience of conservative white males between 30 and 54. With her newfound cachet as Chief O.J. Oppressor, Bruce suddenly seemed a better fit. Even some of her former NOW pals thought so. "It was nothing you could put your finger on, exactly, but her views seemed to change to conform to the mind-set over there," observes a feminist activist, who asked not to be identified. On another level, however, Bruce was destined not to become a member of the club. "Tammy was always the outcast around here," recalls a KFI insider, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. "The others [on-air personalities] just didn't like her."
How else could it have been at a station where, in the on-air lexicon, lesbians are "dykes," gay males are "faggots," and African-Americans are "homo-mandingos"? "It's tough being a woman in talk radio, and it's even tougher if you have conflicts going on off-air," says Jane Norris, a Louisville, Kentucky, talk host who worked at KFI in the early '90s. Rollye James, another KFI alum now in Philadelphia, agrees. "To me, admittedly not knowing the particulars of Tammy's case, it sounds like she got a raw deal," she says. A jury this year awarded James $800,000 in damages after she sued a Texas station owned by Lady Bird Johnson for defamation following her firing there, in a case with strong parallels to Bruce's claims against KFI.
"I wish her luck," says James, "because she's gonna need it."
Her radio voice temporarily silenced, Bruce these days strikes an almost melancholy pose as someone with much to say and few people with whom to say it.
Living alone with her two cats, she's intent on getting back into radio but has yet to contemplate shopping herself around, despite being free from KFI. "I'm not going to rush things," she says confidently. For now, she's decided to take care of some unfinished personal business. At Santa Monica College, where she's an unlikely freshman with a full course load, the shy Bruce persuaded one professor to use only first names when taking the class roll, lest attention be drawn to her. But the first time she opened her mouth, somebody recognized her.
Even on her best behavior, people can't seem to leave The Tammy alone.